A fun ride to the Poor Farm
Finally, one thing the Bush folks and I can agree on: Streetcars are largely a waste of money. Buses are more effective and cheaper, and they better serve the "masses" that "mass" transit is supposed to serve.
The answer back from Portland's streetcar fanatics is that the shiny toys spur high-density development in inner city cores, and somehow buses don't do that. But assuming that high density is a good thing, is that really true? Sure, when they first hit town, Portland's streetcars helped sell condos in the Pearl. But that era is now over -- way over, and it's probably not coming back. The novelty of the trolleys has worn off. Isn't it time to come to our senses and spend our scarce transit dollars as prudently as possible?
The core of the extremely soft reasoning behind streetcar mania is encapsulated well in this morning's O piece on the subject:
Through the Small Starts program, Congress directed the federal bureaucracy to give streetcar proposals credit not just for moving people efficiently but for spurring growth nearby in the form of restaurants, shops, apartment and condominium buildings. Bus routes, which can easily change, do not show such corollary development.I'm having a lot of trouble believing the cause and effect that's being offered so uncritically here. How often are bus routes changed in Portland? Rarely or never. So permanence can't be much of a plus for streetcars. The only appeal of fixed-rail trolleys appears to be their novelty. Could the same level of "sex appeal" be generated with some sort of innovative electric, alternative fuel, or hybrid vehicle, which would be more nimble, cheaper to operate, and far more flexible? Of course.
Blumenauer introduced the Community Streetcar Development and Revitalization Act in 2002 to create a federal program to help other cities use streetcars the way Portland does. He points to neighborhoods like the Pearl District and South Waterfront, where developers say the streetcar has helped make possible a dense mix of housing and businesses.Geez Louise, Earl. So far, SoWhat is not a "dense mix" of anything but construction mud, apartments, the OHSU health club, and people looking for a parking space. If that's your example of streetcar nirvana, you're not going to convince too many people of the wisdom of your position.
If the Eastside Streetcar is built, about 4,537 housing units would be added along the route, compared with 1,105 without it, according to estimates for TriMet by economic consultant Eric Hovee of Vancouver.Whoa, stop the presses -- some guy hired by Tri-Met says the streetcar is our salvation. Break out the checkbook for another $100 million based on that?
If what is desired is a smart-growth, planned city, it can easily be achieved without extravagant, slow streetcars. Please, let's get real.